stapsdoes101things: '101' superimposed on a rose window (101church)
6 April 2012

The cake above is a babka, a traditional Polish Easter cake. My partner, whose grandmother was Polish, has been enthusiastically rediscovering his heritage this year. This involves baking babka, dyeing hard-boiled eggs red with onion skins, buying vast quantities of cheese and smoked sausage, and taking the whole lot to church to get it blessed.

After various false starts, he discovered that the local Roman Catholic church, St Dunstan's, was actually holding a proper Swiecone, the blessing service, on Easter Saturday, so off we went.

I'm not sure what I was expecting - four or five Babcias with a cake each, perhaps. But this was huge - the church was full to bursting, mostly with young families, each bringing a basket of goodies. These were piled into a small mountain on the chancel steps. And I suddenly realised - of course; this is what you do at Easter if you're Polish and Catholic - which is something I don't think I'd ever appreciated before.

The priest seemed a bit bewildered, but played along gamely. The service was conducted in about equal parts Polish and English, so I was quite bewildered myself, but fortunately the congregation didn't have to do much beyond say 'Amen' in logical places.

Even if I didn't understand much of the service, I appreciated the principles behind it. The affluent world has horribly skewed attitudes to food, and it was very good to go to an event where food was appreciated as a blessing. I'd like to learn a little more Polish and go back next year. The chances of my converting to Roman Catholicism are approximately zilch, but this seemed like a very friendly, lively, congregation, and I'm glad to know it exists near me.

I only realised when we were half-way there that this would tidy up goal 14. I never got round to writing up my visit to the Friends Meeting House last summer, but the Quakers were a very friendly bunch and I may well go back there before the 1001 days are over. Anyhow, St Mary's, the Friends, and St Dunstan's together make this goal complete.

Z najlepszymi zyczeniami Wielkanocnymi. (With best wishes for Easter)
stapsdoes101things: '101' superimposed on a rose window (101church)
Woking: snow

To get to Guildford in time for choir practice this morning, I would have had to leave the house at about five past eight. Unfortunately, I didn't realise this until half past, at which point I was still in my pyjamas and needed to shower. I felt rather bad about this, because I had told the MD we'd be there, but there wasn't much to be done, and so I made the best of a bad job and headed out through the snow to the nearest church.

I know I said I wasn't going to Mystery Worship the churches in Woking (in case I find myself going back there, which is likely enough), and that stands. However, the questionnaire format is quite useful in assessing my feelings, so here goes:

The church: St Mary of Bethany, my parish church.

Denomination: Church of England.

The building: Early twentieth-century red-brick - nothing special, but pleasant enough. Stained glass at the east end, but plain elsewhere. Wide arches, which, together with the obviously flexible lay out, gave an impression of spaciousness. At the service I attended, the chairs were arranged in a semi-circle facing a dais on the south wall.

The neighbourhood: South-west Woking - a quiet, residential street in a busy town about half an hour out of London.

The cast: The leader was Steve Beak, and the preacher Gillaine Holland. Various members of the congregation spoke at various points during the service, and Steve Beak, joined by other musicians, doubled as the leader of the band.

The date & time: Sunday 19th December, 2010, 11am.

What was the name of the service? Informal Family Service

How full was the building? Probably about a third full - we were encouraged to draw into the central segment of seating to get closer together! I understood from a lady who spoke to me after the service that this was unusual, and that the prospect of the carol service in the evening was combining with the snow to bring the attendance down.

Did anyone welcome you personally? Yes. I was handed a notice sheet as I entered, and, once through the vestibule and into the main body of the church, I was greeted by a chap who explained that he was the husband of the regular pastoral care leader, but that she was off sick today. Also, the coffee trolley was standing by at the door, and one of the coffee ladies offered me a cup - just the thing after a chilly walk!

Was your pew comfortable? Yes - a wooden chair with padded seat and back.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere? Chatty. The band was playing/singing quietly at the front, but on the whole the congregation was busy talking amongst itself! The couple who came to sit in front of me introduced themselves, as did some other people, and I was made to feel very welcome.

What books did the congregation use during the service? None. The words of the songs were projected onto a screen, and, while Bibles were visible here and there about the place, the Gospel was read by means of YouTube video, so I don't think anybody actually opened one!

What musical instruments were played? Three guitars, acoustic and electric, and drums. There were also two singers helping to lead the worship.

Did anything distract you? Most of the south wall was blocked out with a gorgeous mural (picture here), and I found my eyes wandering to this quite a lot, trying to work out how the strips that made up the cross criss-crossed over each other. There were a couple of babies, too, making pleasant baby-noises.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what? Very happy-clappy, with spontaneous prayer, and more than a few raised arms.

Exactly how long was the sermon? No watch! Probably somewhere between twenty and twenty-five minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher? I'd give her a 7. She seemed to be smiling all the time, drama-school style, but was very clear and easy to follow.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about? We all have our own ideas about what the birth of Jesus looked like, but the traditional nativity play/Christmas card portrayal doesn't sit well with what we know of Middle Eastern societies then or now. The misconception hinges on inaccurate translations of the words commonly rendered 'room' and 'inn', which would be better translated as 'space' and 'sleeping area'. Probably Mary was surrounded by a large and supportive family that first Christmas.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven? The real sense of welcome I met, even as a traitorous out-of-parish worshipper!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place? This is a rather specific hot button issue for me, but: during the 'Fingerprints' session, where people shared their experience of God this week/month/term, a couple of students came forward to talk about their experiences with university Christian Unions, and how well it was all going. Which would have been fabulous, but one of them mentioned in passing that 'they wouldn't let us give out flyers' - and that took me right back to 2006, and all the angst at Exeter.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost? The lady behind me started chatting to me, asking who I was and where I came from.

How would you describe the after-service coffee? Well, having had coffee before the service, I declined a second cup. But, assuming the after-service round was the same, it was served from big insulated jugs in plastic cups in those plastic handle/holder thingies. Nothing special.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 1 = terminal)? Six. To be honest, it's not really my style. And I wouldn't feel comfortable about being a regular where they're very pro- Operation Christmas Child. That said, everybody was fantastically friendly, and it seemed like a very welcoming community.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian? Yes, very much so.

What one thing will you remember about it in seven days' time? Coffee on arrival, and the fabulous welcome!
stapsdoes101things: '101' superimposed on a rose window (101church)
Saint Mary of Bethany

What's this about? Why do I want to do it?

I moved to Woking a year ago, but I'm still commuting to church in Guildford, where I previously lived. That's not likely to change soon, as I'm in the choir and on the PCC at Guildford, but I'd also like to get more involved in my local community. In my experience, finding a local place of worship is a good way to start. The two denominations I have the closest links with are the Church of England and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Since I might not get on with either of the local groups in those denominations, I'll try one more.

How will I know when I've done it?

I'll have attended a service at St Mary of Bethany Church, a Meeting for Worship with Woking Friends and one other religious service in the Woking area.

This can't be combined with goal 1 (become a Mystery Worshipper and review three services) for the simple reason that, if I decided to attend one of these on even a semi-regular basis, I would feel very uncomfortable posting such a public review.

I'll record this in posts on this journal.

St Mary of Bethany

August 2013

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